This year I’ve got a chance to attend the biggest Children’s Book event in the industry: BCBF! Here I’m gonna share some things that might be helpful if you’re an illustrator and thinking to go as well. When I was preparing for the Fair, I had to dig through numerous blogs of other artists, and only thanks to that info I think my visit was easy and relatively successful. So enjoy, and let me know what else you’d like to know!
So first thing first: what do you need to think of BEFORE the Fair? Think of it like that: when you’re on the Fair meeting AD’s, editors, peers, you are a walking promotion of yourself. So take everything you want people to know about with you. Here’s what I had on me:
First thing first: Portfolio
I had two options: A3-ish Pina Zangaro portfolio (left), pretty big, heavy, looking very professional, or a simple transparent folder from Blick (right), very light and easy to carry around. I decided to take the big one, it was heavy as hell, but it was worth it. Why? I saw many artists showing their work in those black office folders that almost fall apart, some had their art on separate sheets of paper, and I have to say: please don’t do that. Even though most ADs really don’t care if your folder is fancy or cheap, the way your work is perceived differs a lot if the portfolio case is a mess. So if you can keep it in a clean, simple and sturdy folder — do that.
Things I recommend to take to the Fair are: Business Cards, Postcards, Mini-Portfolios to leave behind, Posters for the Illustrator’s Wall, Portfolio and your Book Dummy/Published Book if you have one.
I took all of that, and used everything. I had a book dummy that I was showing along with my already published book. It always helps, because different people review your work differently: somebody wants to see your portfolio in general, somebody is only interested in your own picturebook story. The stuff that’s already published is just adding to the general impression: this person can be trusted with work. The goal is not to overwhelm a reviewer with your work, so choose wisely. In my case everything I took was super-useful at the reviews.
Tip: Most of the publishers told me they are NOT interested to see just portfolio, they want your own STORY! They would even tell “this is all good, but we like to see your own book ideas or at least several consequent images of the same character. So taking a book dummy would be a great decision — you will hear tons of useful feedback.
Another thing that’s a must-have is a notebook. I’m this person that gets distracted easily, forgets things, confuses dates. That is why I ALWAYS write everything down in the most organized way possible (just like if I were an old lady, hehe). This will help you, because: 1) If you plan ahead, you can write down only the events and reviews that interest you. So you won’t be panicking on the Fair, when you see their huuuuge program for each day. And 2) You should try to write down things like: times of portfolio reviews that you will see on the stands, your personal meetings, and most importantly: the feedback you receive. This is crucial, because I promise, once you step away from your review table, all the info will get mixed up in your head, and you will probably forget who said what about your work.
On the Fair
When you arrive, you WILL get overwhelmed. That’s why I recommend to attend for at least 3 days. It’s okay for your first day to be vague. When you enter, the first thing you see is the Illustrator’s Wall. This is where you can start, walking past it, sticking your posters and business cards there. It’s a fun tradition!
At my first day I planned that I won’t be standing in any lines, period. I think it’s a common mistake on Bologna Book Fair: many artists think that if they stand in every possible review line, they will get the most out of the Fair. This is so wrong! There are lines everywhere, so much queuing that on my 4th day I spent 10 minutes in the restroom queue, and then realized it was not for the restroom, but for the wardrobe! And I didn’t have to stand there AT ALL! :D
So anyway, keep that in mind when choosing the queue to stand it. You might spend anywhere from 15 mins to 1 hour waiting, so choose the publisher that really fits you. The way I acted on my first day was: I walked through all the halls, looked at as many stands I could, and If I saw they will have a review, I wrote it down. Here are some pics:
Another advice is: if you don’t see a review sign, go ahead and ask a person on the front desk: “Will you have any reviews for illustrators?”, “I am an illustrator, could I briefly show you my work right now ?”. Most of the times the answer you’ll get to these questions is “no”. However, always ask to leave your postcard and business card (and a mini-portfolio, if you really like the publisher). I had about 5 reviews by just walking in and asking nicely.
What also works is listening to what people are saying. I arrived to the Fair all by myself, and I had nobody to walk around with at first. Then I accidentally met my colleague from Kyiv, illustrator Inna Ruda, and it was one of the best things that happened to me on the Fair. Why? Because if you’re going with the person whose interests match, it will be much easier. Plus, others will know something you didn’t, and vice versa. But if you’re going alone — it also can be a good thing, because you can do everything in your own rhythm.
Besides the reviews on stands, you should also check out the reviews in the BCBF program, those that are happening at the Illustrator’s Survival Corner. Those are VERY interesting, and here’s why :)
Every day they will have 5–10 portfolio reviews with different people. This year there were ADs from Chronicle Books, Nobrow Press, Walker Books, etc. This is a really good chance, because even if Chronicle Books have their Art Director on the Fair, he/she still won’t be reviewing your work on the stand. They are too busy! So they will only do reviews that are on the schedule of the Fair.
So how do you get on the list? This is tricky! For each day, you have to sign up starting at 9 am of this particular day, on the Illustrator’s Survival Corner front desk. The thing is, at 9:10 am EVERYTHING will be already booked. So what you should really do is - come as early as possible, and wait in the line to enter the Fair, and then RUN to the sign up desk, seriously. Chances are, the coolest reviews will already be booked even if you come an hour before. But my advice is to come to the table on the review time anyway, and see if somebody doesn’t show up, or if the reviewer has some extra time, which is how I got into 2 really great reviews that I couldn’t sign up to. ( I have a great fail story about me coming an hour before the Fair opens to sign up, and you can read about it, and some other stories, in a separate post that’s coming soon)
So in general, here’s what I was doing at the Fair: 1) Walking around and leaving my cards at the stands I like, talking to publishers. 2) Looking for portfolio reviews at the stands AND at the Illustrators Survival Corner. 3)Standing in lines 4) Not making it to any lectures or other events, which is okay, because I came to hear feedback and find clients.
How to dress: wear something light and comfy, because it’s probably going to be hotter inside than outside. Nobody cares what you’re wearing, so just make it feel comfy and look somewhat neat :)
What to take with you: besides your art, I recommend taking a backpack! Put everything that you don’t need to reach immediately in the backpack, and things you need to take out often (like your notebook, business cards) will go in the tote bag. Yes, you will feel like you’re on a gypsy market, but hey, your shoulders will say thank you.
Food: In sprite of everything I’ve read online, the cafe stands inside the Fair weren’t horribly packed- only the ones near the entrance. but the rest of food places were completely okay- no huge lines. Another tip though is checking out a “secret” canteen of the Fair that you won’t regret finding! My friend showed it to me, and it was a blessing. You can actually have amazing food there, not just sandwiches! The door leading there is near the exit gates, but INSIDE the Fair (You will need to put a stamp on your hand to be able to get back, so don’t forget that.)
Please go to the Fair, hear some great feedback, surprise yourself! You will 100% benefit from showing your portfolio. I’m working as a freelance illustrator for about 6 years now, but I still found out some things that really opened my eyes. Every year things change in the book industry, and If you love children’s books and want to get published, this is the place to be.
Soon I will create a separate post that is less instructional and more fun - to share some stories that surprised me on the Fair, like the unexpected feedback about my work, some tips on how to approach a publisher, and couple of funny stories of course! :)
Please leave a comment or a question below, I will be happy to answer!